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Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

If Erik Larson never wrote another book, it wouldn't matter, because The Devil In The White City is so damn good.  This is  not only a page-turner/murder mystery, it's also a non-fiction, historical account of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair.  And, it reads like fiction.  The first time I read this book, it started out slow for me.  Not so this time, perhaps because I already knew it was going to get better as it went along.   Larson brings an entire era to life here, and this Gilded Age was packed with new inventions and discoveries.  This book will place you in the forefront of American Architecture and also Landscape Architecture.  Eiffel had created his famous Tower and the pressure was on for the Chicago World's Fair to compete with his graceful monument.  If all this isn't enough for you, there's a chilling thread of heinous crime that runs through this book like a dark river, perpetrated by a serial killer who's every bit as charming and deadly as Ted Bundy.  You'll wonder why you've never heard of this person, who's right up there with his contemporary, Jack the Ripper.  And I loved the detective who plodded along and doggedly closed in on the murderer, without the benefits of modern technology.  This Fair was a junction where all kinds of famous people came and went, everyone from Susan B. Anthony to Buffalo Bill.  And in with all the calamity are the inventions that were introduced at this fair.  Think peanut butter and Cracker Jacks, the Ferris wheel and electric boats.  Entire tribes of people were brought over for this fair, from the Middle East and Africa.  Union standards were changed forever, and so were the many laborers who toiled (and sometimes died) for two years to make this grandiose vision a reality.  You'll be up in the swank offices of the elite in the world's first skyscrapers, and down at the gates of Hell in the infamous meatpacking stockyards.  The Chicago World's Fair, also known as The World's Columbian Expedition occurred just 13 years prior to the publishing of Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle."  Chicago was a paradox; an epicenter of wealth and developing culture fueled by an abattoir.  And the "White City" created by the fair was so beautiful that some fainted upon seeing it.  This spectacle brought work and excitement to the city, and also many young women looking for employment and lodging.  With all the city embroiled in the affairs of The Fair, the killer found the crowds and bustle the perfect distracting environment for his activities.  Reading this book was not only a very entertaining history lesson, but also just a good read!

1 comment:

  1. I'm just about to start his new book, In the Garden of the Beasts.